#17: Baby Steps

Dear Friends,

Todd Denning (Antonio) and I rehearsed our first scene this morning and it went well.  We were both “off-book,” meaning we both had our lines memorized and consequently did not hold our scripts in our hands.  There are differing opinions about whether or not it’s productive to be off-book right off the bat, but as far as I’m concerned, preparation equals freedom.  The more prepared you are, the freer you can be on stage.  So the sooner the better, in my book. 

And believe it or not, memorizing Shakespeare’s easy.  Shakepearean verse is rhythmic, like a heartbeat.  You know how a song can just drop into your head, and you’re singing along to the radio without even realizing you know the words?  It’s like that.

Any anyway, humans in general are really good at memorization.  A lot of people might not feel like they have a knack for it, but think about it: we all have an entire language memorized.  We catalog words at the speed of thought, defining them in the instant we hear them, and recalling them in the instant we speak them.  Pretty impressive.

So we breezed through our scenework with enough time left over to start work on our second scene together.  I am a huge Todd Denning fan, by the way.  He was a blast to work with in both Comedy of Errors and A Winter’s Tale, and I thought his MacDuff in MacBeth was incredible.  He’s very giving in rehearsal, great with Shakespeare’s text, and versatile: capable of goofy comedy, tragic depth, and a swashbucklin’ swordfight.  An all-around company man.  I was thrilled to find out he was cast as Antonio.  A solid scene partner makes all the difference. 

So we figured out a general shape to our first two scenes, got to run them a couple of times, and then afterwards, practiced our swordfights.  All and all, it was a good day at the office.

One more observation: Paula’s a very actor-friendly director.  A few times now, I’ve suggested line-cuts for myself, and almost every time, she’s insisted we keep them in.  In my experience, this is out-of-the-ordinary; normally directors like to trim a scene, for the sake of clarity and brevity, and actors are frequently reluctant to have lines taken away.  I pointed this out to Paula, and she laughed, saying, “You don’t have a lot to say as it is– we need all the words we can get.”  You don’t hear that too often…

Incidentally, by “line-cuts” I mean removing lines from the play.  I’m a big fan of cutting Shakespeare. It’s very rare that you’ll ever see a Shakespeare play un-cut, in its entirety.  Bill’s plays are full of Elizabethan references and in-jokes that are lost on us, and consequently tend to kill the pace of the scene.  Also, these plays were originally performed on a bare stage, with minimal scenery, so there’s a lot of language that describes the setting (in a forest, on a boat, etc) for the benefit of Elizabethan audiences, who used their imaginations to set the scene.  These days, we frequently have the technology to BUILD forests and boats, so a lot of that descriptive exposition might get trimmed, too.  The film- and television- saavy audiences of today can process information lightning-fast, and consequently prefer scenes to be fast-paced, in quick, short bursts.  Maybe it’s because we were all raised on Sesame Street — lots of fun little vignettes — and sitcoms, but when it comes to entertainment, most of us have pretty short attention spans.  So cutting helps move it along.  Speaking of moving along… it’s lunchtime!

I’ll keep you posted,



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